Ecosystem study of election administration in New Mexico

Our study of election administration in New Mexico is now available, “Assessing Electoral Performance in New Mexico Using an Ecosystem Approach.” Thad and I worked on this project, which was lead by Lonna Atkeson.

Here is a very brief summary of the study:

This new study provides an in-depth, systematic examination of New Mexico’s election ecosystem. Additionally, it offers administrative and legislative recommendations for New Mexico that will inform any state looking to improve the efficiency of its entire election process.

In New Mexico, the 2000 presidential election was decided by less than 400 votes, which has resulted in close scrutiny of the state’s election administration. This Pew-funded study combines qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze the 2008 New Mexico general election by collecting and analyzing the experiences of voters, poll workers and administrators.

The study, from researchers at the University of New Mexico, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Utah, provides a portrait of the election experience from which problems and successes can be identified and confirmed from multiple perspectives.

Researchers’ Recommendations for Improving New Mexico’s Elections Administration

• County clerks should consider problem-based learning or mock elections as a method for poll worker training.
• All poll workers should be required to read the voter identification law prior to the opening of the polls to ensure that they understand and administer it consistently.
• The post-election audit of voting machines should be transparent and include a public notice of the event; only machines that were used to tabulate votes in early, absentee and Election Day voting should be included in the audit sample.
• Early voters must receive the correct ballot combinations; early voting workers should only handle a single ballot at a time to ensure accurate ballot distribution.
• Better procedures are needed to separate absentee ballots that cannot be electronically read during absentee voting tabulation; staff should be trained on how to handle unreadable ballots.
The Election Day observations and the post-election audit observation components of the combined report reveal a variety of strengths and weaknesses in the election system, but generally show that it fundamentally works, voters experience infrequent problems and both voters and poll workers have confidence in the system.